Posted on February 13th, 2012
Being the cocktail festival neophyte that I was, I went to Portland Cocktail Week with stuffy journalistic goals of remaining focused, attentive, and slightly sober. In retrospect, I did pretty well– filling an index card with notes during a noontime blind tasting of eight tequilas held in a room warm with bodies and practically damp with agave fumes, achieving a buzz just enough to get me doing live band karaoke and befriending a man who designed a robot, partying with said robot, waking up feeling spunky enough to start my day with a mezcal tasting– and so on. I had managed to achieve a harmonious tripartite homeostasis with my intake of nutrients, water, and spirits, and I held onto it. Until the last day. The day of the cocktail bus.
The day of the cocktail bus began with more mezcal. Mas mezcal, por favor. “Para todo mal, mezcal y para todo bien, tambien” is the popular proverb appropriated by what quickly became my favorite brand of pretty much anything: Del Maguey’s Single Village Mezcals. The day before, Misty Kalkofen and Jeff Grdinich of Drink, like an efficient team of street savvy drug dealers, had gotten me hooked. We drank out of handmade clay copitas that sucked the moisture out of my lower lip and made the first sip more intense, we poured some on the ground for a blessing, and we learned that in one village men pummel the roasted agave piñas with bats before fermentation. The memories of the tequila I’d tasted the other day were now relegated to the Really Nice Guy or RNG region of the brain (“Oh, him? Yeah, no, I mean he’s a Really Nice Guy and all, but…”) while mezcal leaned against a brick wall smoking a hand-rolled cigarette being all complicated.
Of course I had to see it again. I woke up, took a nice long drink of water, checked my hair, and was walking through the door of Teardrop Lounge just after 11am. Breakfast was served in a wave of vintage cocktail glasses, many of them with unique stem heights which lent an air of Seussy playfulness to the experience. The sun warmed my back as we tasted two cocktails two different ways: a Guelaguetza* with either tequila or mezcal, and a Zocalo** with mezcals from two different villages. Misty explained that La Guelaguetza is a Oaxacan festival that celebrates giving and sharing, while Jeff mixed up the cocktails to give and share. My tasting notes on the two Guelaguetzas reveal my huge mezcal crush with the tequila variant only offering up “chocolate, sweet” while the mezcal variant was “Tangy! Bigger, better, muy complex +++.” After comparing Chichicapa to Santo Domingo Albarradas in the Zocalos, we had a beer cocktail. Then a spiked hot coffee. I floated off my barstool and out into the afternoon with my brain grinning like an idiot while the rest of my body nervously wondered if it was going to get fed any time soon. Nope! It was going to run across the Broadway Bridge to the Leftbank Annex and all the fun that waited inside. “Fun will sustain you,” my grinning brain told the rest of my body, and so I spent the next few hours drinking a delicious absinthe-based punch and cheering on the fine ladies vying for the title of fastest bartender in Portland’s Speed Rack competition. “Pssst, I think I’m high… on mezcal!” I said to a tall burly man next to me who gave me a big smile, slapped me five, and replied “Awesome!” At this point, a good way to describe myself might be one of the plastic body-shaped covers for those Visible Woman models, but filled with liquor instead of plastic organs, maybe with a straw for a spinal cord. Oh, and would you look at the time.
I stared into the abyss. The abyss was a bus. It was a shiny red bus, and it reminded me just enough of the shiny red robot named Chassis that had served me drinks at the previous night’s Robots vs. Humans bartending event for me to momentarily believe in Transformers. It made me feel safe. “It’s cool, I know this robus.” I had also reached the point in my personal drunkenness when I was feeling really helpful. When I get drunk, I get helpful. I walked straight to the back of the bus where a man was doling out punch from a big tub into small plastic cups. I’m sure I asked if I could help at least twice, but things were already feeling fuzzy. I do remember the on-board bar though– it was a big old slice of some tree with a very rugged exterior, and very nicely finished. The two bar stools were plush and upholstered with red leather, and they were hydraulic or something. When we started moving, the stools gently swayed along with the bus and I felt like a cowboy astronaut. A cowboy astronaut riding inside a Drinkbot Transformer-turned-spacebus. The punch was yellow and tasty. The person who had come to occupy the second stool was using his iPhone to make Cake play over the bus’ speakers, and I couldn’t have been happier sipping, singing, and bobbing around as we headed to our first destination: a bar. Our second and 5th destinations would also be bars, and although I’d managed to snarf a few crostini snacks at the first bar, I was literally running on fumes.
Journalism? Sobriety? But where was that sexy mezcal? Oh look, a bus! I can’t tell you a thing about the bars we visited except that bar number four was the real abyss. There was carpeting, popcorn machines, and no windows. It was a pitcher plant-like venue, designed to attract and digest those to whom the redolent odor of synthetic butter is irresistible. To be honest, it was the closest thing to a real “dive bar” I’d been inside for months. My body, in its humiliated state, staged a final rebellion when it realized there wasn’t any fresh-squeezed citrus to be had here, and kicked me hard enough to get the point that I needed some goddamned water across the blood-brain barrier. I drank that delicious dive bar water until I felt strong enough to flee.
I fled to Clyde Common and my first significant solids of the day. By the ripe hour of 7:30 PM I was supping on tagliatelle tossed in a beautiful puree of vibrant greens. At the time I didn’t believe in vitamins, only in colors, and this was some of the greenest looking pasta I’d ever seen. It was so green that I felt good enough to have the bottle cap of a carbonated Americano popped off for me and, just like that, the balance was restored. Only a bout of the hiccups and several volumes of water stood between me and the sleep of the drunk. And a cigar. I ended up smoking a cigar. And if it were possible to communicate with spirits, I probably would have texted mezcal.
0.25 oz. Agave syrup
0.25 oz. Santa Maria Al Monte Amaro
0.50 oz. Lemon juice
0.50 oz. White Creme de Cacao
1.75 oz. Agave spirit
1 dash Angostura bitters
0.50 oz. Canela (Mexican cinnamon) syrup
0.50 oz. French Dry Vermouth
2.00 oz. Del Maguey Vida Mezcal
1 dash orange bitters